Starbucks Marketing Strategy: 6 Ways to Espresso Your Brand’s Message

What do coffee lovers and marketers have in common? Among other things, a constant need to stay awake. In order to appeal to both mentioned groups, we’ve decided to examine the Starbucks marketing strategy.

While our findings will keep coffee lovers awake – as we’ll provide some interesting facts about the world’s most popular coffee brand – marketers will finally be able to get some sleep, as we’ll provide you with 6 lessons we learned from Starbucks that you can apply to your own marketing strategy.

A Brief History of Starbucks

Founded in 1971 by Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl, and Gordon Bowker, the Starbucks company started out as a retailer who only sold coffee beans. In 1982, everything changed.

That very year, Howard Schultz joined the company as the director of retail operations and marketing. Impressed by the popularity of espresso bars in Milano, he got an idea to develop a similar coffeehouse culture in the US. So, he first convinced the founders to open the first coffee shop in Seattle and then bought Starbucks in 1986 and gradually turned it into what it is today.

And today, Starbucks is considered to be the 5th most admired company in the world. At least according to Fortune magazine’s latest research, which noted down the votes of some 3,900 executives, analysts, directors, and experts. At the same time, it is the number one company in the food service industry (and the only one from that sector in the top 10).

Fortune Top 10 Companies 

Such brand recognition has been the result of the unique Starbucks marketing strategy. But before we delve into the details of their strategy, let’s briefly explore the mystery behind the company’s name and logo.

Name and Logo

When it comes to the name, it was inspired by Moby Dick. In Melville’s classic, there’s a character named Starbuck, though he’s not really the kind of a guy who’s going to bring you a Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Shmoop Starbuck


Okay, once the name was in the bag, next up was the logo.

So, what’s the deal with that green mythological creature staring at you from your Starbucks cup as you take a sip of your latte?

Steve Murray, the creative director of the Starbucks Global Creative Studio, solves the mystery of the Starbucks logo: “It’s the siren. She is not a real person, but we kind of think of her as one. She’s the biggest symbol of our brand, really, other than our partners (employees). She’s the face of it.”

A mysterious nautical figure in an ancient Norse woodcut from some old marine books served as an inspiration for the logo as, in Murray’s words, “they really loved the look of it and it kind of tied into what they felt Starbucks stood for”.

Starbucks Logo Evolution

Over the time, the logo has had several makeovers and you can check out the evolution of the Starbucks logo here.

Starbucks Marketing Strategy: 6 Tips to Hit the Ground Running

1. Create a Customer-Oriented Mission Statement (and Stick to It)

Initial Starbucks mission statement:

“Establish Starbucks as the premier purveyor of the finest coffee in the world while maintaining our uncompromising principles while we grow.”

Current Starbucks mission statement:

“To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”

Notice how their focus has shifted from coffee to people? Consider doing this with your own business as well (if applicable). 

Starbucks Mission Statement

Your mission statement is the promise you make to your customers (and the one you, hopefully, intend to fulfill). It should be the driving force behind everything you do. That being said, the Starbucks marketing strategy is based on a mission statement that promises to focus on each individual in their shops, serving them great coffee, and having an overall positive impact on the entire neighborhood.

The main thing to have in mind when creating your own mission statement is the question “Why do we exist?” If you manage to answer this question clearly and convincingly, you’ve got yourself a quality mission statement.

A general-purpose mission statement could be based on this template (though you should personalize it to suit your individual company):

At [company name] we aim to provide [objectives] to our customers through [actions].

2. Communicate Your Message Via Multiple Social Channels

Sometimes words can’t espresso (pun intended) how much good social media can do to your marketing efforts if used properly. In fact, the entire Starbucks marketing strategy largely relies upon and exploits the power of different social media channels. They do so in two main ways:

  • Repurposing content. Sometimes it means breaking down larger chunks of content into smaller pieces so that it can be used across a wide range of social media channels. They almost never copy their posts word-for-word and just post them on a different network. Users of different social media networks prefer different types of content, so you often have to repurpose it to fit that specific audience. You also need to tailor your message to meet the requirements of each social media network – for instance, there’s a 280 character limit on Twitter, while Facebook is not quite hashtag-friendly.

Starbucks Tweet

  • Interacting with their audience. Like baristas in their stores, Starbucks’ social media managers try to maintain short and sweet conversations with their customers. In many cases, social media can be used to provide customer support.

3. Take Advantage of FOMO

FOMO stands for “fear of missing out”. According to the dictionary definition, FOMO is “anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media”. 

How does Starbucks use FOMO to their advantage? Via limited-time offers.

You must’ve seen those red holiday Starbucks cups, which have been a part of Starbucks marketing strategy during the holiday seasons ever since 1997. Where’s the kick? In addition to being available for a limited time, every year the holiday cup is different. So, if you don’t get it during that very season, you’ve missed out.

Another example: Pumpkin Spice Latte. Unless you’ve been living under a giant rock, you must’ve witnessed the Pumpkin Spice Latte craze. Starbuck lovers go crazy over this taste during every fall, and the very fact it’s available only in that season increases its sales. This craze is reflected on social media as well – each fall, Starbucks customers show their #PSL enthusiasm with more than 3,000 tweets a day.

Pumpkin Spice Latte Starbucks

So, how can you use FOMO with your own products and services? 

Choose a product or service that your company can present as a limited-time offer.

Once you select a product or service, you need to limit the availability period. You could make seasonal offers (like Starbucks does), but it can also be a ‘happy hour’ kind of thing or any other kind of a limitation that’s supposed to create a sense of urgency with your customers.

Just like Starbucks did it with the Pumpkin Spice Latte, you need to get the audience talking about your product and let it spread like wildfire on social media.

4. Create a Loyalty Program

Starbucks has an outstanding way of awarding their loyal customers. With the Starbucks Rewards program, your purchases add up to free drinks and food. Not only that, as a member, you get certain instant benefits (just for being a member), such as free in-store refills, birthday rewards, and special member events and offers. 

Starbucks Gold Status provides you with even more incentives, like monthly double-star days, reward every 125 stars, and a personalized gold member card.

Starbucks Rewards

Starbucks also offers its own mobile app that enables customers to find a store location, pay by phone and order ahead. 

Be it a mobile application or a simple membership card, you can use it to start some sort of a loyalty program that would provide incentives to your customers and, more importantly, make them want to come back to your company whenever they need your product or service.

5. Everybody Makes Mistakes – Once You Do, Deal With Them

On May 29, 8,000 Starbucks stores closed for an entire afternoon. Nobody forced them to do it, but still, it was something that had to be done.

Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 11.11.31 AM

The reason? The April 12 incident, involving a Starbucks manager in Philadelphia and two black men. The manager called the police because the two men were sitting at a table not willing to either place an order or leave (allegedly, they were waiting for a meeting). They were soon arrested and the incident went viral, being labeled as a condemnable example of racism.

Starbucks’ reaction was swift and decisive. They soon announced they’re going to shut down thousands of stores for an afternoon to “train” their 175,000 employees. The training has been described by some as “a crash course in how not to be racist”. 

The fact that Starbucks shut down more than 8,000 stores and corporate offices soon got trending on social media. This quickly turned the majority of media buzz from negative to positive. Some pretty decent damage control considering the sensitivity of the issue.

How does this apply to your own business? Well, you need to be prepared that at one point you (or some of your employees) are going to make a mistake (human beings tend to err, not much can be done about it). In such a situation, you need to find a way to turn it into your advantage or at least to annul its negative impact. Just like Starbucks did.

6. Use an Online Quiz

Let’s face it, online quizzes have become omnipresent in the online world. They’ve taken over your Facebook feed. Twitter is swarming with them. They pop out in the middle of news articles. Not even the greatest brands in the world have remained immune to this quiz-mania, Starbucks being no exception. How come? 

BuzzFeed Quiz

Online quizzes can tell you all those things you’ve always wanted to know about yourself. Based on your Starbucks order, an online quiz can tell you how old you are, where to vacation this summer, what kind of friend you are, or even what’s your favorite sex position. Or you can Build A Starbucks Frappuccino And They’ll Tell You How Many Kids You’ll Have. The possibilities are limitless.

Not only are such quizzes popular among Starbucks fans, but even Starbucks itself has used them in its own marketing strategy. Starbucks Singapore has posted a quiz titled “Which Starbucks Macchiato Are You?” on their official website. And the results were awesome! It generated 3.5k shares and 172 comments.

This sort of engagement has significantly contributed to their overall sales. In fact, due to their ever-increasing popularity on social media, more and more businesses are using online quizzes as a means of lead generation. If you think your own business could benefit from them in the same way, you can try creating your own quiz right now.

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